The Education of the Little Tree is a novel written by Asa Earl Carter who used the pseudonym Forest Carter. The novel was published in 1976 by Delacorte Press. It belongs to the fictional genre and passes the message of traditional life and attachment to nature. The novel comprises of 21 chapters and 216 pages.
On September 4, 1925, Asa Earl Carter (later Forrest Carter) was born in Anniston, Alabama. She was the eldest among four children. During the World War II, he was one of the United States Navy troops. In Birmingham, he was the pioneer of the North Alabama White Citizens Council and was instrumental in the victory of Lurleen Wallace for the race of Alabama governorship in 1966 since he was the writer of her speeches. He is renowned for the words “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” that were spoken by Governor George Wallace. In the 1970 democratic primaries, he conceded defeat to Wallace. Other works published by Carter include The VengeanceTrial of Josey in 1976 and Gone to Texas in 1973.
After this loss, he dropped politics, left Alabama to appear again as Bedford Forrest Carter. This pseudonym belonged to a Confederate general called Nathan Bedford Forrest. He also gave himself the name, Gundi Sudi (Cherokee Indian name). It means Little Tree, later he used this name in his novel. His whereabouts were to remain anonymous until his demise.
Overview of the Novel
The plot of this novel is that of a boy, 5 years old, whose parents die during the depression era. He was forced to reside with his grandparents who nurture and instill in him the lifestyle of Cherokee including whiskey production, farming, nature, love, mountain life and society by gently guiding their grandson and fostering independence in him. They dwell in a cabin found in the Mountains of Tennessee where he adopts the name Little Tree given to him by his grandparents. The story revolves around the fifth and tenth birthday of Little Tree as he adapts the life of the solitary mountains. Apart from his grandparents, he obtains lessons from several quarters including politicians, Christians, the law and the city.
However, Little Tree is later taken to a boarding school by the state for some months where he encounters a firsthand experience of prejudice directed to the Indians. Willow John, an American Native friend of his grandparents, observes Little Tree’s gloominess and bails him out of this cruel environment. As the novel comes to a climax, it ends in a quick and dramatic manner. His Grandpa and Willow John all die in a natural way but Grandma dies a suicidal death after the demise of Grandpa. Thus, Little Tree journeys to the west shortly to make ends meet by working on a variety of farms where he also receives shelter in return.
Themes and Styles
A theme that distinguishes itself in the novel is the theme of family bonds. First, the life that Grandpa and Grandma lead is defined by a loving bond and enthusiasm. This is depicted when Little Tree says, “Granma said you couldn't love something you didn't understand; nor could you love people, nor God, if you didn't understand the people and God.”(Carter & Strickland, 2011, p. 38). While everyone argued about the welfare of Little Tree, he instinctively rushed to Grandpa and held his leg. Immediately, everyone could perceive that he identified with his Grandpa who insisted that he should accompany them (Carter & Strickland, 2001, p. 1). In this novel, close bonds are built through experiences drawn from the mountain, lessons and stories. Another aspect of this bond can be seen during events like planting, harvesting and making whiskey. Little Tree is made a part of the family discussions and decisions making process.
Another theme portrayed in by Carter is the link between the past and the future. Little Tree, for instance, is fed with the information about Cherokee natives and his background. He realizes that he has to know about the past in order to secure his future.
The use of first person style of narration is the key driver of the story that enables a reader to imaginatively experience the whole story. Carter gives us a vivid description of nature which is the key in the definition of The Education of Little Tree.One can smell the environment, see the natural habitat and hear the sounds that Little Tree encounters in the forests.The dynamic shift of Little Tree’s behavior from an individual against nature to one who loves the forest can be seen from the vivid description of the environmental landscape. As Little Tree imagines, an aura of plant life in the forest is created.
Moreover, Carter’s use of dialogue enables us to tell the background of his characters.The grammatical inaccuracy of the language used by Little Tree’s Grandparents shows that they are uneducated. The complaint logged by grandpa about the existence of several cumbersome words existing in the world and the use of a simple dialogue brings the idea of keeping life simple.
The life of Carter and his novel, The Education of Little Tree, are marred in controversy. The novel which he wrote as an autobiography is questionable as far as its authenticity. His association with George Wallace who was a segregationist and having strings attached to Ku Klux Klan has elicited bitter comments over his novel. Thus, the novel is not a true picture of the Cherokee life but a fiction.